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Marquetry panel

Marquetry panel

  • Place of origin:

    Cheb (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1650-60 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Fischer, Johann Georg (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Marquetry of walnut, pearwood, maple, oak, ebony, beech and other woods, the front surface carved in bas relief.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L Hildburgh

  • Museum number:

    W.61-1938

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Eger in Bohemia, now Cheb in the Czech Republic, became famous in the seventeenth century for a particularly complex type of marquetry. This mixed flat veneers with thicker pieces of wood, the surfaces of which were then carved in low relief. The resulting panels were more like some types of Italian work in pietre dure or hardstones. The wood was often originally brightly stained, which would have made the similarity even closer.

Johan Georg Fischer was one of the best known makers. Designs were often based on engravings, sometimes (as here), with the scene reversed, suggesting that it may have been copied from a later version or copy of the original engraving, which would have reversed the image in printing.

This panel, showing the Death of Absalom, the third son of David, the most famous of the Jewish kings, is based on an engraving by Antonio Tempesta, published in 1613, or one of the many later versions of Tempesta's image of the biblical story. It shows the young Absalom riding under a tree and being caught by his hair in the branches, with Joab riding towards him with a spear to slay him.

Physical description

A panel of relief marquetry, of the form known as 'Eger marquetry', depicting the death of Absalom, after an engraving by Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630), the image reversed from that of the original engraving. The panel is almost square and may originally have formed one of the outer panels of a games board. It is now contained in a frame of maple, probably dating from the late nineteenth or early twentieth-century. The marquetry is composed of small, irregular pieces of a variety of woods, set with the grains running in various directions. These are of different thicknesses and the front faces are carved in bas relief and further decorated with engraving and punching. The woods included walnut, oak, beech, pearwood, maple, ebony.

The scene shows Absalom (third son of the biblical King David of Israel) at the point when he has ridden under an oak tree in the course of a battle with the enemies of Israel and has been pulled from the back of his mount when his hair is entangled in the branches. On the right Absalom hangs in the tree with his horse rushing forward from beneath him. In the centre, Joab (the nephew of King David) attacks his entangled cousin Absalom with a spear to kill him. On the left are a number of mounted soldiers under trees,. On the right are foot soldiers among the trees and a further foot soldier runs to the left in the foreground. The story is told in the Bible in 2 Samuel 18:19-14.

The wooden marquetry pieces are glued to a thin substrate visible on the back, of pine on the lower half and another softwood on the upper half, both with grain running laterally. On the upper half there is evidence of a further thin veneer of beech originally glued at right angles to the immediate under layer. This seems to have been largely removed by planing and the back of the under layer shows open worm runs that also suggest that the back of the panel has been planed. The top of the back of the panel shows traces of paper printed with German Gothic letterpress, probably dating from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

The majority of the marquetry pieces are abutted and interlocking, but some small pieces are entirely inlaid into larger pieces(as on the hooves of Absalom's horse) or attached to them with small wooden pins (as on the soles of the boots of the man fleeing in the lower left-hand corner). In places the carving of sections reduces parts of the sections to less than 2 mm thick, as in the area above the man in the lower right of the panel.

The panel is very brittle and has suffered water damage on the top half. The front face shows worm holes. There are areas of missing veneers (for example, the spear of Joab) and in on place to the right the background has broken through.

The panel is set within a maple frame of mitred construction, pinned at the corners, and set with mirror plates at top and bottom. This was almost certainly added in the 19th century, before the panel came into the Museum's collections.

Place of Origin

Cheb (made)

Date

ca. 1650-60 (made)

Artist/maker

Fischer, Johann Georg (made)

Materials and Techniques

Marquetry of walnut, pearwood, maple, oak, ebony, beech and other woods, the front surface carved in bas relief.

Marks and inscriptions

'Square panel, of various woods
carved in low relief
(Known in Germany as "Prague
Work")
Munich '22
Written in ink on a small paper label attached to the top frame of the panel

LOAN
DR HILDBURGH
In pencil, written in the centre of the back of the panel

Dimensions

Height: 36.2 cm framed, Width: 36.5 cm framed, Height: 32.7 cm unframed, Width: 33.1 cm unframed

Object history note

Given to the Museum by Dr. W. L. Hilldburgh, F.S.A. Dr. Hildburgh was a generous donor to the Museum, particularly of European metalwork. This donation is recorded in Registered File 4462/38. There is no earlier history of this piece before it entered Dr. Hildburgh's collection

Historical context note

This particular form of sculpted marquetry was developed in Eger, Bohemia, in the early 17th century and the trade was at its height between about 1640 and 1680. It involved the setting of multiple pieces of wood, both native-grown and imported from tropical areas, each of them of different thicknesses, allowing for bas-relief carving to complete the image. The wood was set on a base of softwood, usually spruce, pine or fir. Mahogany, walnut and maple were particularly used for the marquetry, together with burr woods (highly figured wood cut from the roots or base of trees), which was used to create particular effects. Details might be added by engraving or by inlaying minute pieces of wood or other materials into the marquetry pieces.

The images created in this marquetry were often base on widely available engravings and could illustrate all sorts of scenes, biblical narratives and classical myths being among the most popular. Certain families became particularly known for this work, amongst them the Eck family and the Fischer family.

Eger marquetry had a particular vogue in the 19th century, when it was admired for its high technical excellence. The V&A has a number of pieces of Eger marquetry, including a panel showing Christ as the Man of Sorrows (41-1869) and a large cabinet-on-stand (W.42-1977). It also has a number of small table cabinets made up with re-used Eger panels (museum nos. 7823-1861, 21-1884 and W.38 to 40-1939) which are evidence of the 19th-century popularity of such marquetry.

Descriptive line

Panel of relief marquetry, depicting the Death of Absalom, after an engraving by Antonio Tempesta. Eger (now Cheb, Czech Republic), c. 1660, possibly by Johann Georg Fischer, enclosed in a moulded, maple frame

Production Note

This form of marquetry of relatively thick pieces of wood, set irregularly and carved on the outer surface, was a speciality of Eger in Bohemia (now Czech Republic)

Materials

Walnut; Pearwood; Maple; Oak; Ebony; Beech

Techniques

Eger marquetry

Categories

Marquetry

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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